Our bodies are composed of 70% H2O. We live on it, and will dehydrate within hours without it. Yet in many places people go without clean, safe water, while in others waste is common.
Fresh drinking water is a important resource that is more in demand everyday in a growing Earth. The carservice2u expansion of cities, agriculture, population and the changing climate means that supplies are increasingly under threat from depletion, pollution and resource conflicts. While drought ravaged regions in the Middle East, Northern Africa and Australia have long had to come to terms with scarcity of water, cities in Europe and the United States are feeling the pressure to protect their water sources.
Less than one percent of the world’s water is fresh and accessible, over 97% is salt with a further. 2.5% frozen. The vast majority of fresh water is contained in underwater aquifers. The world is not running out, but changes to land use and climate will affect the availability of potable drinking water.
The United Nations Water Program declare water is a human right, and that it should be freely available to all. Our need for water is so basic, that access to it for all must be protected. Clean water is not only the key to food production, but essential to health. Despite this, vast numbers of people in Asia and Sub-Saharan Africa are going without. The World Health Organisation estimate almost 4,000 children die each day due to dirty water or poor hygiene linked to lack of water.
Globally, agriculture is the primary user of water at 70-85% of available fresh water, at least 15% of agricultural irrigation is deemed unsustainable use, the vast majority of it in food production in India, China and Egypt. Meat farming surprisingly uses the most, including the irrigation of feed crops for meat animals. Steps are being taken to conserve water in farming by changing irrigation methods and dry crop planting.
Industrial uses of water don’t often come to mind, but you may be surprised to know that industry consumes 59% of the water supply in developed nations. The biggest user is cooling for power production, wasting not only water, but the energy generated by production. Paper production is a big user, however even this thirsty industry is learning to cope with less. The UN water report that “A modern paper mill in Finland has reduced the amount of water used per unit of output by over 90% over the last 20 years: thanks to change from chemical to thermomechanical pulp, and installation of a biological wastewater treatment facility that permitted recycling of water.”
Domestic use accounts for only 8% globally, but as cities grow the pressure is on individuals and municipal councils to cut down on water use. Many cities are turning to privatisation of water as a means to control usage. For the poor, having to pay for an essential natural resource like water is an added stressor. In 2000 the city of Cochabamba, (Bolivia) attempted to privatise the water system by selling the rights to it’s water to the Betchel corporation under duress from the World Bank. Widespread riots and a general strike resulted, even the police went on strike in protest. The poor were facing paying as much as a quarter of their monthly wages in water. After the death of a protester shot by the military, the water executives left the country and the water privatisation law was rescinded.
In the U.S. the per capita use of water is 215 cubic metres – 56796.991 gal(US Liq), twice that of the next highest users, France. In 60% of large European cities groundwater is being used at a faster rate than it can be replaced. These stark realities are forcing cities to rationalise water use and take steps to decrease water consumption. For instance grey water recycling is becoming more common, as are desalination plants were energy and money is available. Individuals are saving water by using water efficient rated appliances and fittings, or simply using less and being careful with what they do use. Sometimes its as simple as not pouring water down a drain that you could use elsewhere.
In Australia water has always been a problem. Water tanks and rationing, including punishment by fines for overuse of water has been long in place in Australian cities. The Australian government have instituted a National Rainwater and Greywater Initiative offerring incentives for households and industries to collect rainwater and reuse greywater, captured from sinks and showers. Technology is helping householders utilise shower and bath water for reuse in toilets or gardens. A guide for household water sustainability is available here
Save Water America in conjunction with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency have launched a domestic water saving program designed to encourage consumers and corporations to examine their water use and become more efficient. they have a water efficiency quiz for consumers.
Climate change will be a major challenge to sustainable water use. The UN note that climate change impacts will include more severe and more frequent droughts and floods, higher temperatures and changes in rainfall distribution. Glaciers are melting worldwide, which will pose a water problem for those places that rely on the spring melt for drinking water. The poor are also likely to be affected the most. Already many island nations are finding their small fresh water lenses increasingly contaminated by salt water incursion as the increased storm weather activity that accompanies a warming climate erodes their land.
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